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First shipment of COVID-19 vaccine expected in MN next week

Erik Newland
St. Cloud Times

Minnesota could receive almost 46,800 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as early as next week, Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials said during a press conference Tuesday.

Vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna are still waiting on approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration before they can be shipped out to states, Walz said during the conference.

The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be approved Thursday and the Moderna vaccine is expected to be approved Dec. 17, Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could approve a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday.

A federal initiative aimed to speed up the vaccine process allowed companies to manufacture the first batches of vaccines before they receive FDA approval so they can be sent to states as soon as possible.

"We are preparing to receive 183,400 doses" of COVID-19 vaccines during December, Walz said. He warned that those schedules for production and delivery remain unconfirmed.

"Anything we're telling you today, that's what we know today," Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during the conference. "The scale of this has not been done before."

Regulating vaccine development, contracting with vaccine manufacturers and shipping doses out to states are the responsibilities of the federal government, Walz said.

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The National Academies of Science and the Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have determined which groups of people states should immunize first — health care workers, long-term care residents and essential workers.

Minnesota's networks for vaccine distribution were established well before the COVID-19 pandemic, Walz said. The state's role is to work with local public health organizations and healthcare systems to determine exactly which high-priority people should receive the vaccine first.

Who can be vaccinated first?

The state's goal is to "immunize for impact," Walz said, "meaning maximize immediate health benefits and reduce deaths and serious illnesses."

The very first doses will go to group 1A — health care personnel and long-term care residents, Ehresman said during the conference.

Group 1B includes essential workers, and group 1C will expand immunizations to seniors and those with medical conditions that put them at risk to COVID-19 complications.

"Even with these initial relatively few doses, we know that we're not going to be able to give as much vaccine as is needed, even for those highest-priority populations in the first couple of weeks," Malcolm said.

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Both vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are required to be kept extremely cold. A test delivery of a vaccine container and other supplies from the federal government to a Minnesota health system has already proved successful, Walz said during the conference.

As vaccine production expands, Malcolm said early vaccination plans will focus on adults, as trials of the vaccine in children have not been completed yet.

Officials during the conference urged Minnesotans to not let down their guard even as news of vaccines comes out.

Masking and social distancing will still be required to slow the spread of COVID-19 until vaccination can be fully underway, which could take around six months, Malcolm said. 

During the conference, Walz compared the vaccines to a "fire hose" that may still not be enough to put out the fire of COVID-19 as community spread remains high.

"Our job can be to shrink the fire by not getting it to spread," he said, "and the vaccine will help us put it out."

Erik Newland is the suburbs reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach him at 320-255-8761 or enewland@stcloudtimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @SCTimesErik.

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